Rafa Cabrera Bello came up just short in Italy but he grabbed the place money for returns of 8.25pts on the week. Three of the four picks in the US went quite well but could never quite get to the upper reaches of the leaderboard to get anywhere near a place. With the US Open next week we don’t have too much to get excited about as most of the top players take a week off to prepare for Shinnecock. With major fever beginning to hit I will try to have next week’s preview up as early as I can on Monday.
2018 pts advised = 240pts
2018 pts returned = 314.49pts
ROI = 31%
Fed Ex St Jude Classic
While TPC Southwind is hardly the exhausting challenge of a US Open at least the PGA Tour prepares for the slog with a difficult test this week. This event regularly sits in the top 10 most difficult courses on the schedule and that is reflected with winning score usually around the -10 mark. It is a technical, tree-lined par 70 with slightly narrower than average fairways and some thick rough awaiting those that do stray a little too far off the tee. Being a par 70 there only 2 par 5s so for those not finding the fairway it can be a long round. There are several long par 4s and trying to find these small greens from the rough isn’t going to be easy. Therefore it is often a course that rewards steady, accurate play from tee-to-green. With small bermuda greens usually running quick enough plenty of greens will be missed and scrambling skills will be tested. Daniel Berger has found the key to Southwind having won the last two events and he did so by driving the ball long and straight and hitting greens. A pretty good recipe for success on most courses but with difficult to hit greens, a hot putter and maximising birdies isn’t required this week as Berger ranked just 26th and 27th on the greens.
As the name suggests the wind is liable to blow through the course and therefore there a number of courses where form correlates nicely. Other windy, tree-lined tracks with small greens include PGA National (Honda Classic), Waialae GC (Sony Open) and El Camaleon GC (OHL Classic).
Tom Hoge has been on my radar for this since his 3rd place finish at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He was the 54 hole leader there in January and with the correlation between Waialae and TPC Southwind he went in the notebook. So when he finished 13th at Memorial my interest was already perked but I became even more confident when I noticed that he ranked 1st in putting. He isn’t always the best with the flat-stick and when he can put everything together he has a pretty impressive all-round game. That was the case in Hawaii as he ranked 1st in the all-round ranking. A look through his other PGA Tour top 10s shows a 10th at the Puerto Open which is another similar course with good correlating form. Hoge also has a little course form with a 12th place finish back in 2015. With several long par 4s around the course the players will require the mid-long irons to be firing in order to hit these small greens and Hoge’s stats in that area are very impressive as he ranks 10th in proximity to the hole from 175-200 yards. As well as putting brilliantly last week he also sits 8th in one-putt percentage so he has been doing some things well all season with the putter. With his impressive performance last week I’m surprised to see 110/1 about him and it rates a very solid each way play.
Matt Jones was going to be my main pick at Memorial but for one small detail, he wasn’t actually playing! There was a fairly specific stat in particular that I really liked for Memorial and Jones was ranked no. 1. Unfortunately I can’t remember exactly what it was. However luckily this week gives me another chance to get with the Aussie on a course where he has recent form figures of 18-26-3. A windy course where greens are hard to hit and scrambling is key suits the short game wizard perfectly and despite not really contending yet in 2018 he is racking up some solid results while building a decent stats profile along the way. Jones ranks 6th in GIR from 175-200 yards and 15th in proximity to the hole from the same distance. He was 13th on his last appearance and he also qualified for the U.S. Open yesterday showing he is in good form. He will arrive full of confidence and looks a little over priced with many of the market leaders probably looking at honing their game ahead of next week.
At first I was a little hard pushed to find another bet but then I saw one of my favourite outsiders sitting in a lofty position in several key metrics. Michael Thompson is 23rd in GIR from 175-200 yards and 11th in scoring relative to par from the same distance. He is also putting as well as normal as he ranks 23rd in putting from 5ft-10ft which is crucial on any difficult course where length par saves are required. His recent results have been ok but he should enjoy this course as he was 3rd in 2015 and his only win on Tour has come at the Honda Classic where there are also small bermuda greens and wind is a factor. At 200/1 it won’t cost much to have an each way interest with Skybet’s favourable 8 places as they fight for the U.S. Open stakes next week
Shot Clock Masters
The Lyoness Open as we knew it has disappeared and in its place we have another Keith Pelley gimmick, the Shot Clock Masters. It’s hard to say how this one will pan out but as with the other different types of event this year we have to keep an open mind and give it a chance. One thing we do know is that Patrick Cantlay, Bryson Dechambeau and Kyle Stanley won’t be lining up in it any time soon!
The course is the same as the event stays at the Diamond Country Club near Vienna and the format is almost the same with the one key difference alluded to by the name. They will play their usual 72-hole stroke play but every single shot will be played under the shot clock. The first player away will have 50 seconds to hit their shot with the next in line getting 40 seconds. Each time a player runs over they will be handed a 1 shot penalty and everyone will have 2 time-outs a round which will double their time for their shot when used. It’s an interesting idea and with slow play a very topical issue at the moment many golfing eyes will be on Austria this week in some capacity. With round times getting out of control on the PGA Tour you would hope that they will be watching closely.
The sponsors will be glad that something will draw attention to Diamond CC this week as the field strength doesn’t look like doing that. The combination of the shot clock and being the week before the U.S. Open has left this resembling a Challenge Tour event but that gives someone the chance to make a name for themself in a high-profile event and that makes it appear like a decent betting event. The course has long been one that favours ball-strikers and in particular Diamond CC is another second shot course. It actually resembles a PGA Tour venue perhaps more so than any other course on the European Tour, certainly the ones on European soil. It is a lush green venue with water in play practically wherever you look as lakes wind themselves through the course. However there is still plenty width off the tee as these water hazards mainly come into play around the greens. There are plenty of fairway bunkers though and while they remove the bombers aspect of the course, players largely won’t be punished for taking driver as the landing areas are generous. Year after year this is won by a player who pounds the greens and the last 5 winners have averaged 9th in GIR. They have also scrambled well averaging 9th but the all-round ranking suggests that most aspects will need to be in good order as the same 5 winners have averaged just 6th in that area.
I wanted to side with brisk players who wouldn’t be phased by the timing restrictions but to be honest the field strength is so poor there aren’t too many here that are famously slow or quick. So instead I have stuck with the regular M.O. for Diamond Country Club and gone with a ball-striker as my main pick. Nobody in the field ranks higher than Lorenzo Gagli in ball-striking over the last 3 months as he sits 3rd on Tour. That is made up from 4th in total driving and 9th in GIR so it is clear that he is in full control of his long game. That is exactly what is needed here so I’m trying not to worry too much about his price as there isn’t much to beat here. With scoring usually low, birdie average is another key metric and again Gagli is doing well there as he sits 22nd over the last 3 months. That is good enough for 2nd in this field however.
Gagli has struggled for much of his European Tour career usually ending up bouncing between it and the Challenge Tour but something seems to have improved drastically over the last 6 months. His new-found tee-to-green assurance has seen him not only win on the Challenge Tour for the first time but also find more consistency on the main Tour. His last 4 starts on the ET read 14-20-20-36 and that is a step above what 95% of this field have been doing so in reality 28/1 isn’t the worst price I have seen. I’d be hard pushed to suggest there is much value in there but he seems like a player who has properly turned a corner with his game and I think he is worth keeping an eye on throughout 2018. He was 10th here in 2013 so can play the course and a poor field like this could be just what he needs to get his first European Tour win. He has been cut again since the withdrawal of Burmester and Van Rooyen but while that makes the 20/1-22/1 obviously feel even shorter we need to focus on the fact that the field is even weaker now and the favourite is a 54 year old, albeit a very talented and in-form one!
The only man in this field above Gagli in birdie average over the last 3 months is Jeff Winther and that seems good enough reason to back the Dane at 50/1. He actually sits 8th on Tour and is making 4.44 birdies per round. He has missed his last 2 cuts but a closer look at his form tells us that he isn’t usually too comfortable on tight, tree-lined courses so if we ignore Wentworth and Italy his 2 results prior were a 17th at the Belgian Knockout and 14th in the Sicilian Open. In Belgium he actually finished 3rd after the 2 stroke-play rounds and led the field in GIR. He is yet to have a European Tour top 10 and he has missed both his cuts at the course but this event looks like a good opportunity for a wildcard and with some sneaky form I think he rates a good each way play at 66/1.
Adam Bland closed with a 65 last week and he sits 10th scrambling over the last 3 months. With greens being missed and fairways wide enough, this looks ideal for the power packed Aussie. He hasn’t played in too many European Tour events so far in his career but when he has he has performed rather well. In the Perth Sixes last year he made it all the way to the semi-finals on a course where scrambling is always crucial. It’s a speculative play but he might just be over priced in this calibre of field.
Gavin Moynihan makes up the team at a whopping 400/1 for no reason other than he looked pretty impressive alongside Paul Dunne at the Golf Sixes and he didn’t seem to have any issue with the shot clock hole. Indeed he actually performed better than his more esteemed team-mate that week in England so I’m surprised that he missed his next cut on the Challenge Tour. Although that was his first start since that win and it really should be a catalyst for a player who was a top class amateur, playing the Walker Cup twice. With a poor field this gives him another chance to push on in the quest for his European Tour card.
Summary of bets
St Jude Classic
Tom Hoge – 1pt ew @ 110/1 (1/5 odds 8 places SkyBet)
Matt Jones – 1pt ew @ 125/1 (1/5 odds 8 places SkyBet)
Michael Thompson – 0.5pt ew @ 200/1 (1/5 odds 8 places SkyBet)
Shot Clock Masters
Lorenzo Gagli – 1.25pts ew @ 22/1 (1/5 odds 6 places)
Jeff Winther – 0.75pt ew @ 66/1 (1/5 odds 6 places)
Adam Bland – 0.5pt ew @ 125/1 (1/5 odds 6 places)
Gavin Moynihan – 0.25pt ew @ 400/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Coral ) and 0.5pt Top 20 @ 12/1
Weekly pts advised = 11pts